February 9, 2021 | By Wisconsin School of Business | Back to blog

The future is uncertain, making it more important than ever for tomorrow’s CEOs to be prepared, believes Marvin A. Riley, president and CEO of global manufacturing company EnPro Industries, Inc., headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Riley spoke recently to a virtual audience of Wisconsin MBA students as part of the M. Keith Weikel Leadership Speaker Series at the Wisconsin School of Business, sharing the philosophy behind EnPro’s culture.

Marvin A. Riley, submitted photo

“I’m going to talk about [our philosophy] in a generic sense. I’m going to talk about it from the perspective of, what does the CEO of the future look like? I really think that there are certain skill sets and capabilities that are going to define what the future leaders of organizations look like,” Riley says. “You don’t necessarily have to be a CEO, but I think the future leaders of organizations need to look, behave, and operate in a certain way.”

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Riley holds a BS in electrical engineering from Howard University and an MBA from Johns Hopkins University. He also completed the Advanced Management Program at Harvard Business School and was an executive with General Motors for over a decade. In his current role as CEO, Riley manages more than 5,300 EnPro employees across its 25 locations worldwide.

With the company’s divisions in areas such as aerospace, oil and gas, and semiconductors, it’s essential that EnPro—and all of us—be prepared for the massive global challenges ahead, many of which we are already seeing on various scales, Riley says.

In order to successfully lead the organization of the future, CEOs will need to master what Riley refers to as three separate domains: the individual domain, the collective domain, and the institutional domain.

Read excerpts about these domains from his WSB talk below:

Understanding the individual domain. “I strongly believe that every person has to shift from being past- and future-focused to present-moment focused. We have to turn the phones off. We have to fundamentally be present in a way that we’ve never been present before so that we can pick up the soft signals of what’s actually happening around us, particularly now that we’re in a virtual space,” Riley says. Tuning into all of our relationships is critical, the personal as well as the professional.

Other aspects of the individual domain include moving from “ego oriented to more ecosystem oriented,” and transitioning from “rigid” belief systems to “a more open mental model, fundamentally challenging what you believe each and every day.”

Understanding the collective domain. Riley says it is important to operate from the perspective of ‘we’ and not ‘they,’ always including oneself in the equation.

Next, the collective domain is about eschewing “pseudo” communities for “authentic” communities. “Be respectful, be kind—saying things that are kind, necessary, and true at all times—but operating from a space of authenticity, bringing the best, truest, expression of myself to work every day so that I can be in partnership with other people, that’s what I’m after.”

Try practicing ‘inquiry versus advocacy,’ Riley says. “We have to dig deeper, we have to be curious.” A room full of smart people getting behind your opinion is not the same as a group that operates as a true collective.

Similarly, CEOs should get comfortable with the notion that ‘I am not my idea,’ says Riley. Free and authentic discourse happens within a collective when individuals can separate their ideas from their sense of self—particularly when those with authority are throwing their ideas into the ring.

Finally, small groups engender the best thinking, Riley says, but “the best thinking and the best work happens in well-managed, diverse groups.” And he says, it’s up to good leaders to bring out that diversity of voices and thought.

Understanding the institutional domain. “This is about building an institution. This is about the piping. This is about the processes, systems, methods, and tools, and the way of working that makes up an institution.”

First, Riley says, we want to shift from ‘directing to learning.’ However, in a situation such as the COVID-19 pandemic, “I think it’s instructional to be directive on processes but not on content.” In crisis times, process helps “get everyone’s voices in the room.”

Second, the institutional domain is about moving from a hierarchical structure to one of subsidiarity, or “having the ability to make decisions closest to the source of where the activity is taking place.” An example, Riley says, is EnPro’s global workforce: employees at each site need to have the authority to make decisions without having to route through the company’s headquarters.

Third, given what will be the fast pace of the future, the institutional domain should include a shift from a “single bottom line focus”—an attention on profits—to a “dual bottom line focus,” he says. “At EnPro, we place equal weight on human development as we do financial performance. And we’re willing to put our money, our weight, and our decisions behind that.” Part of that human development means highly engaged employees and encouraging their professional growth. “We want to access the full person, we want the entire person to come to work each and every day, and I’m encouraging you to think about that for your organization.”

Watch the full talk hosted by the Wisconsin School of Business:

The M. Keith Weikel Leadership Speaker Series at the Wisconsin School of Business enables Wisconsin MBA students to interact with and learn from accomplished business leaders and alumni. Executives from both the private and public sectors are invited to campus to address students.

The series was established in 2004 with a gift by John J. Oros (BBA ‘71) and his wife, Anne Wackman. Today, the series continues as the M. Keith Weikel MBA Leadership Speaker Series thanks to a gift by M. Keith Weikel (PhD ‘66) and his wife, Barbara.